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Anwesh Satpathy

Kashmir has dominated the headlines in national news over the past few weeks. Yasin Malik was finally sentenced to life imprisonment 30 years after a group of terrorists allegedly led by him opened fire at air force personnel in Srinagar, leading to four deaths. According to official documents leaked to the magazine Open, Yasin Malik and his associates were given arms training in Pakistan. Ever since he reportedly gave up arms in 1990s, Malik has fashioned himself as a Gandhian pacifist. As such, the state saw it as a welcome change from being militant and expected progress through peaceful dialogue. It was in this spirit that Malik met the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, the recent judgement of the court found that there was sufficient evidence of Malik’s continued association with terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba even after his supposed renunciation of violence.

In the face of such circumstances, one would expect unequivocal condemnation from all sides. Apart from expected condemnation of the judgement from Pakistan’s who’s who, many Indian commentators also surprisingly joined in. Prominent among these was the former head of Amnesty international Aakar Patel, who characterized Malik as a "martyr" who has sacrificed himself exposing the judiciary’s bias and bigoted nature. In full disclosure, I had an agreeable public conversation with Mr Patel a few months ago and found his critique of the government to be incisive. However, his comments on Malik are representative of the sentiments among a significant proportion of this government’s critics. It arises from a failure to look beyond binaries. It is, of course, true that this government, like others before it, uses state machinery to intimidate and arrest critics and opponents simply for expressing themselves. This does not entail that every arrest of a political figure is baseless. 

Nevertheless, those who spuriously believe that the present regime is an illegitimate fascist enterprise which has captured all the institutions are bound to reach to the logical conclusion that every political arrest and conviction is an illegitimate and autocratic show of power. What else would you expect from the ideological descendants of Hitler? 

A week after the court's judgement on Malik, two Kashmiri Pandits were brutally murdered in broad daylight simply for belonging to the 'wrong' religion. This led to widespread protests among the Kashmiri Pandit community across the country. In Sheikhpora, roads were blocked and slogans raised against Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha. Fearing escalation, the police locked the suffering Pandits inside their own colony and used teargas on the protestors. Post this, a 29-year-old non-native bank manager was shot dead by a terrorist inside his office premises in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district. Hours later, a migrant labourer was killed by militants in Budgam area, making it the ninth targeted killing in the valley in a span of 30 days. That all these happened only a month after the Prime Minister praised a movie for showing the plight of Kashmiri Pandits shows the difference between rhetoric and ground reality.

We have been told repeatedly by senior government ministers, including Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, that revocation of Article 370 has brought stability and peace in Kashmir. The recent incidents suggest otherwise. The revocation of Article 370 was certainly a commendable step but it was nevertheless accompanied by a lack of coherent policy on Kashmir. While the Prime Minister talks about removing “distance of heart” in J&K, his government is yet to implement any concrete policies in this regard. 

It is not unusual to come across hordes of people painting all Kashmiri politicians as explicit or closeted Islamist slowly working their way towards the creation of an Islamic state on social media. This is simply not the case. All mainstream politicians of Kashmir who stand up against terrorism and militancy ought to be incentivized and seen as ally, regardless of party line. To look at Kashmir just through the lens of normal party politics similar to other states is simply another flight of fancy that we ought to get over. The first step towards the return of normalcy would be to conduct elections as soon as possible and ensure maximum voter turnout. 

As discussed above, the state has clearly failed to protect Kashmiri Pandits. As a Kashmiri Pandit protestor Vimal Bhat said to The IE, "This is not the first such killing. Government has been making many claims about our security. All their assurances have failed. In another six months, there will be another protest over another killing. This has to end."

The mindless menace of violence in Kashmir has to end. We cannot afford another exodus. Steps must be taken to ensure that those thrown away from their ancestral house under death threats return safely. For 30 years, we have essentially ignored the plights of Kashmiri Pandits. Now is the time to say enough is enough. Now is the time to demand justice and protection. Of what use is an elected government if it fails to protect its own citizens?

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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